Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What I’m reading #76

Today is our 14th wedding anniversary and also Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 84th birthday. Coincidence? To mark the occasion Birmingham Opera is staging the first performance of his opera Mittwoch aus Licht. It’s an extraordinary work, magnificently mad – it’s the one with helicopters, and here is a review of the choral first movement. Alexis Petridis attended rehearsals of the whole thing. Quote unquote:
The musicians, too, seem to be bearing it all with good grace. I say as much to Vick, who is watching proceedings, as he expects at least some of the audience to, recumbent on the floor. He nods, then reconsiders. “I don’t think Bruce on the trumpet’s very happy about it,” he says. He has a point: swaying gently a few feet from the ground, Bruce on the trumpet is wearing the kind of rictus grin that conveys abject terror.
Some say that social media is the magic bullet for self-published authors of e-books. Ewan Morrison disagrees, forcefully. Quote unquote:
Let’s look at the stats. If we take Margulies and Penn seriously, how much time does this leave for actually writing? Most self-epublished authors hold down a day job, so let’s give them three hours a day, after work, for author activities. That’s 1,095 hours a year. Reduce this to 20% (since you have to spend 80% of your time covertly self-promoting online), and you get 219 writing hours a year, which works out as 18 12-hour days to write a book.
Some say that Noam Chomsky is a deep thinker, an oracle and a miracle. (Via David Thompson) Benjamin Kerstein disagrees, forcefully. Quote unquote:
Third, he is essentially the last totalitarian. Despite his claims otherwise, he's more or less the last survivor of a group of intellectuals who thought systemic political violence and totalitarian control were essentially good things. He babbles about human rights all the time, but when you look at the regimes and groups he's supported, it’s a very bloody list indeed.
Not reading but watching: A.D. Miller of the Economist, and author of Snowdrops, gives his views on the Pussy Riot case and what it says about free speech in Russia.

Rational optimist Matt Ridley says the world is not going to end soon. Good. He also explains why. Quote unquote:
Just as policy can make the climate crisis worse—mandating biofuels has not only encouraged rain forest destruction, releasing carbon, but driven millions into poverty and hunger—technology can make it better. If plant breeders boost rice yields, then people may get richer and afford better protection against extreme weather. If nuclear engineers make fusion (or thorium fission) cost-effective, then carbon emissions may suddenly fall. If gas replaces coal because of horizontal drilling, then carbon emissions may rise more slowly. Humanity is a fast-moving target. We will combat our ecological threats in the future by innovating to meet them as they arise, not through the mass fear stoked by worst-case scenarios.
Another stupid story (just as stupid as this one), this time in the Sunday Star-Times, claiming that New Zealanders don’t buy or read New Zealand books. The second sentence tells us:
Pia White had more than 500 readers fill out a survey questioning their reading tastes and views about New Zealand literature.
What the online version doesn’t give is the intro in the print version:
Why don’t Kiwis read New Zealand fiction? That’s the question Victoria University student Pia White posed in a research paper for her masters degree.
Degree in what? Did the paper get a pass? What exactly is its status? How did the journalist come to know about it? How were the “more than 500 readers” selected? Is that enough for a useful result? What were the survey questions? Bah humbug.

Finally, my colleague Paula Browning of Copyright Licensing NZ has an op-ed piece in the Herald about the effect of digital piracy on local authors. Quote unquote:
What the law really needs is a damn good editor armed with a heavy blue pencil. If our copyright law could be written half as well as the books by our Kiwi authors, we would have a law that reflects modern commercial reality and provides a welcome boost to an important industry.


Anonymous said...

I suppose a.I will be the 100th person to post this link, and/or b. you are already aware of the link, but here is Pia White's thesis towards a
Master of Information Studies:

I have yet to read it, so can make no comment on the strength of the statistics, but I find strange (I may be missing the obvious) is that Ms White called for volunteers to fulfill her questionnaire in May, 2012 ( and the thesis was submitted in June 2012.

I have a MSc (Auck) and by golly, it took me more than a month to collate, analysis, and write up my data. Perhaps I was doing it wrong.

Anonymous said...

Oh! You don't moderate your comments! How daring of you ;)

Stephen Stratford said...

Thank you Anonymous, I did not know any of this. I didn't bother googling it as it seemed pretty rubbish and you have kindly confirmed that it is. It was a self-selecting group of respondents, which as I recall from my uni days of stats, and my later days as a journalist, makes for unreliable data. Which has never stopped newspaper journalists with space to fill using the stuff.

Stephen Stratford said...

PS Anonymous, no I don't moderate the comments. It's not the kind of blog that attracts a lot - it's hardly Kiwiblog - but I do check in every few hours to remove spam.

helenalex said...

Sadly Chomsky is not the last of the totalitarians, there's also bloody Slavoj Zizek, who has taken over Chomsky's 'trendy countercultural academic' position. Fortunately it's extremely difficult to understand what Zizek is on about most of the time, so the potential for harm is limited.

Stephen Stratford said...

Good point, Helenalex. There is, after all, something to be said for impenetrable jargon.

Anonymous #2 said...

It was a half-baked, melodramatic article. The reporter quoted English professor Mark William from Victoria University but utterly failed to connect the fact that Ms. White’s research came out of the same university. It also completely misrepresented and overhyped the findings (I've had a quick read of the paper) – she doesn't claim in any way that her survey is 'representative' of all NZers and acknowledges the limitations imposed by timeframes and sampling techniques etc. (by the way, it must have passed or it wouldn’t be on Vic’s research database). The reporter was so focused on sensationalising a single point that she failed to give the research due context: it is simply a very small scale exploratory piece which could provide grounding for more rigorous research. And we could hardly expect reporters to focus on (or even mention) such findings as the vast majority of respondents believing NZ fiction was on par with (or even better than!) overseas fiction in terms of quality and originality, now could we?

Stephen Stratford said...

Thanks Anon #2, I hadn't thought but yes it must have passed or we wouldn't see it online. I too have the paper and hope to post a fuller comment on this - not to bag the student, but the newspaper.

Stephanie said...

Congratulations on 14 years of marriage. However, given the determination of a wedding date is made by the bride and groom, I wonder if it is a coincidence ...!!